By Cllr Anna Birley, Labour Councillor for Thurlow Park
This August, work begins to upgrade West Norwood as part of Streetworks – a £7m TfL-funded project to improve the public realm along Norwood Road and remove the gyratory by Tulse Hill station.
However, Streetworks has been more than an exercise in improving the local high street – it has been a demonstration of community leadership and codesign. The project began with a community campaign, led by local Labour councillors, for investment from the Mayor of London, after a particularly nasty accident on the one-way system. Since funding was awarded, we have been working to deliver not only a better West Norwood, but a model for cooperative project delivery based on local leadership and extensive community engagement.
The project steering group, made up of the Norwood and Tulse Hill Forums, local residents, councillors and officers, has put the community in charge every step of the way – from local people leading the procurement of the project consultants to making small grants to community groups to host their own engagement events. Monthly co-design sessions have seen hundreds of residents involved in the detail of scheme design, and the steering group have attended the Feast, had a stall at the monthly Twist market, gone doorknocking and held pop up engagement stalls on local housing estates.
Rather than only expecting residents to come to us, we also have trained and supported groups to organise their own events, because local people are the experts in what will best engage their own communities. Over the last twelve months, events have included a Christmas party on St Martin’s estate, an over-60s disco, a wriggle and rhyme picnic at the library for parents of young children, a walkabout with residents with disabilities and project management training for community leaders. Students at Elmgreen School consulted on and designed the alleyway by Tulse Hill station and teenagers from Peabody Hill have produced a film about their views and experience of the local environment.
The designs which have emerged truly reflect the priorities of the hundreds of residents of all ages who have taken part. A diagonal crossing at the junction with Lancaster Avenue and York Hill was initially considered too costly by officers – however, residents were clear that this should be a priority and a design was negotiated which enables pedestrians to cross from one corner to the other without impacting bus times. Many residents identified the need for a crossing by Elmcourt Road, an issue of ratrunning traffic on side roads like Harpenden Road and the lack of town centre outside Tulse Hill station. The designers, therefore, have built these concerns into the proposals.
By having pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and designers in a room together, people were able share their experiences and identify compromises on areas like parking which can be contentious. Where space is limited on narrow sections of the road, workshop attendees debated what would bring the most value – parking on Norwood Road, cycle lanes or wider pavements. Attendees, regardless of their preferred mode of transport, felt that where additional parking could be provided off the main road but nearby, wider pavements would have the greatest positive impact on the look and feel of the area, and cyclists felt that the road would be safer without parked cars despite no cycle lane.
The formal consultation for Norwood Road recently closed, but the engagement has been much longer term and more extensive. Results will be published and works begin in a few weeks, starting with resurfacing of pavements. The next phase of work will be to design and consult on how the one-way system can be transformed by Tulse Hill station – the community has already had a number of workshops to give Transport for London officers who are leading on the design of this section a clear steer, and this second phase will be completed by the end of 2020.
The new way of working has already gained some traction – local residents and the Elmgreen students presented the model to senior Transport for London officers who were impressed with the approach. As other local projects, like the planning masterplan refresh, kick off, we will be looking to ensure that West Norwood continues to lead the way on cooperative community engagement.